It is important to understand that there are some widely used words and phrases that give offence because they lead to prejudice and discriminatory behaviour.  If people know where the terms come from, it is easier to understand why they can offend and should not be used.

Disabled People

Avoid Use Why
the disabled disabled people The term ‘the disabled’ implies a homogenous group, separate from the rest of the society.
the handicapped disabled people The term “handicapped” has associations with ‘cap in hand’ and begging.
people with disabilities disabled people Under the social model of disability people have impairments.  They are disabled by the environment, attitudes, languages etc.
invalid disabled person This has associations with ‘not being valid’ and ‘worthless’.
Carer (unless applied to family member) Personal assistant Disabled people require support and assistance rather than to be ‘looked after’ and ‘cared for’.The correct use of the term ‘carer’ when applied to family members recognises the extra responsibility placed on family members.
Suffers from/afflicted by / crippled by Living with (state condition) These give impression that disabled people are ill, powerless and dependent.
Normal Non-disabled The word ‘normal’ has no real meaning as we are all different.
Epileptic/diabetic/etc Person with epilepsy/diabetes etc Labels a person according to their condition.

 People with physical impairments

Avoid Use Why
Wheelchair bound Wheelchair user A wheelchair often represents freedom to its user.  People who use wheelchairs are not bound to them.
Disabled toilets Accessible toilets The toilet isn’t disabled – it is either accessible or inaccessible.
Disabled parking Orange/blue badge holder parking The parking isn’t disabled.

 People with learning disabilities

Avoid Use Why
Mentally handicapped, defective, retarded, simple, backward People with learning disabilities Very offensive and stigmatising.
Mongol Person with Down’s Syndrome Term has become very offensive.
Spastic Person with cerebral palsy Term has become very offensive.

 People living with mental health issues

Avoid Use Why
Crazy/mad Mental health issuesMental health problems/mental distress (both terms are used by MIND) Offensive terms.
Mentally ill As above Implies wrongly that cause of mental distress is biological.
Ex mental health patients User or client of Mental Health Services Stigmatising.  It is important to find out how the group or person you are dealing with likes to be referred to.

 People who are visually impaired

Avoid Use Why
The blind Blind people/partially sighted people (specify which group) or visually impaired people The term ‘the blind’ implies a homogenous group, separate from the rest of society.

 People who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Avoid Use Why
The deaf Deaf, hard of hearing people, or people with hearing loss Implies one homogenous group separate from society.
Hearing impaired/partially deaf Deaf, hard of hearing people, or people with hearing loss Used in medical or specialist settings.
The deaf community Deaf community Many deaf people whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL) consider themselves part of the ‘deaf community’.  Some may describe themselves as ‘Deaf’ with a capital ‘D’ to emphasis their deaf identity.
Deaf and dumb/deaf mute Deaf, hard of hearing people, or people with hearing loss Negative, outdated, inaccurate and offensive.  Deaf people use a combination of sign language, speech, lip reading and hearing aids to communicate.
Deaf aid/bionic Hearing aid/cochlear implant Use accurate terms.

 Ethnic and Cultural Diversity

Avoid Use Why
Coloured Black Historically, ‘coloured’ has been used to emphasise not only the difference but the unequal status of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in relation to white people.The term ‘black’ is often used in a political sense to include all people who share a common experience of discrimination because of their race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin.  Some people of Asian background find the term offensive when applied to them, while other people will not wish to be called ‘black’ because of its political connotations.There is usually no objection to ‘black’ being used as a description, but it should be as an adjective: ‘a black person’ or ‘the black community’, not as a noun as in ‘blacks’ or ‘there’s another black’.
West Indian/Afro-Caribbean African-Caribbean More acceptable term, although some people may prefer to be called Black or Black British.West Indian is an outdated, historical term which was originally used to describe settlers from the Caribbean.  It should not be used apart from a few cases such as the West Indian Cricket team.
Asian* Identify by country e.g. Indian, Pakistani, or by the language they speak, e.g. Bengali, Punjabi *Asian should be used with care.  People from the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) do not consider themselves to be Asian.  Younger people may prefer to be called British or Asian British.South East Asian may be preferable to refer to Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese people but again they may prefer to be identified separately.
Ethnics/Immigrants Ethnic minorities/minority ethnic communities Ethnic is offensive; suggests that only some groups have an ethnic origin that is clearly untrue.  ‘Ethnic minority’ is a widely used term to cover all groups who see themselves as distinct from the majority in terms of ethnic and cultural identity.The description of all people of minority ethnic origin as ‘immigrants’ is highly inaccurate, exclusionary and likely to give offence.
Half-caste Mixed ethnicity, mixed ethnic group or mixed ethnic origin There are mixed views on whether mixed race and dual/mixed parentage/heritage are acceptable.  They are not inappropriate as such but are less well accepted and may offend some people.
Non-White Ethnic minorities/minority ethnic communities Implies a negative value judgement.
Taffs, jocks, paddies, pakis, chinks Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Pakistanis, Chinese It is offensive to describe people by their nationality in a derogatory way.
Gippos, tinkers, pikies Gypsies or travellers Offensive.


Avoid Use Why
Gender specific language e.g., he to describe no-one in particular, manning the ‘phones, manpower planning Gender neutral language such as theyCovering the ‘phones, workforce planning The way we use language often gives the impression that women do not exist.  Language should reflect the visibility of women both as employees and as customers to ensure that their contribution is recognised and their needs identified and met.
Foreman, chairman, spokesman Supervisor, chair/chairperson, spokesperson Many job titles or roles which are traditionally identified in male terms have better alternatives which are not specific to either gender

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual (LGB)

Avoid Use Why
Words or phrases that are used to refer to sexuality in derogatory or negative ways Lesbian, gay or bisexual Other terms can be offensiveSome older people may define themselves as homosexual rather than gay or lesbian.  However the word homosexual is rarely used by the younger LGB people to describe themselves, and is often seen as derogatoryGay can be taken to refer to men and women, however is more often used just to refer to men


Avoid Use Why
The elderly/old codger/old biddyOld dear/dearie

Granddad/grandma (if not a relative)

Older person/older peopleElders (this term is often used amongst ethnic minority people) Where it is necessary to make reference to age, it is better to use neutral terms such as ‘older people’ when referring to people.  Other terms can be offensive.
Kid, youth, youngster Young person/young people Again, when necessary to make reference to age, it is better to use neutral terms such as ‘young people’.

Table compiled by Vijaya Kotur

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